Welcome to Groundhog Day.
There may be six months of winter left in Saskatchewan, but this, happily, is déjà vu all over again, a welcome repeat performance, for the gold medal, of the best match played in the 2010 world junior hockey championship.
Five days after Canada and the United States played to a spectacular 4-4 tie - the lead changing twice, two short-handed goals by the Americans, one short-handed goal by the Canadians to tie the game in the dying minutes - they're back.
Both come with something to prove: the Canadians that they are up to the challenge of winning a record sixth gold medal in a row; the Americans to show that New Year's Eve settled nothing, even though the registered score was 5-4 Canada following a bizarre shootout in which the Canadian side scored on all three of their shots and the Americans failed only on their final try of a long and draining night.
"A shootout loss is not really a loss," Danny Kristo, the quick American forward who put the U.S. up 4-2 early in the third period, protested yesterday afternoon.
"It shows up as a loss, but it's not really a loss."
But there can be no such curious rationalization tonight at Credit Union Centre, where a sellout crowd of some 15,000 - and very likely a television audience to break the record 3.7 million who watched last year's gold-medal game when Canada romped over Sweden 5-1 - will see the gold and silver medal decided between two teams few expected to meet in the final.
"I don't think anybody's going to be satisfied with a silver medal," added Kristo, whose spectacular speed helped the Americans upset pretournament favourite Sweden 5-2 here Sunday evening.
Sweden will play feisty but exhausted Switzerland earlier today to decide the bronze medal.
The Swiss, not good enough even to be invited to last year's world juniors in Ottawa, somehow defeated Russia 3-2 in overtime on Saturday despite losing their two top defencemen to injury. When they played Canada in Sunday's semi-final, the drained Swiss fell 6-1 but still qualified for the medal round.
The Canadians will have to play the speedy Americans without Travis Hamonic, the calm and sturdy stay-at-home defenceman who was driven into the boards by Swiss forward Jeffrey Fuglister in the dying moments of Sunday's game and suffered a separated shoulder.
The 19-year-old from little St. Malo, Man., who had a terrific tournament going, was only 10 when he lost his father, and before each game this tournament Hamonic had taken to writing a private message on the blade of his stick and then taping it over so no one else on the ice would know his secret.
The message coming back from his teammates, however, is no secret at all.
"We're going to try and go out there and win it for him," Canadian forward Brayden Schenn said.
There is, of course, more to it than that. There always is when Canada meets the United States.
"We have a chance to redeem ourselves," said Taylor Hall, one of the Canadian scoring stars of the tournament.
While it may seem an odd thing to say considering Canada remains the 2010 world juniors' only undefeated team, the Canadians feel strongly they let the New Year's Eve game get away from them and were fortunate to get to the shootout.
"This is an opportunity," Canadian defenceman Ryan Ellis said, "to, hopefully, win a gold medal, but beat the Americans, too."
That is a significant factor. Canada may have been a country for nearly 143 years now, but psychologically it remains, as Canadian author Hugh MacLennan once so neatly put it, "a colony of a sort unknown to the history of Europe or Asia." And when it comes to hockey - Canada's national game, the game Canada invented, the one sport in which Canadians will accept no less than gold - this metaphorical chip on the shoulder quickly becomes a log.
"They outplayed us last game," Canadian captain Patrice Cormier conceded. "We have to prove we can play with them."
And that, essentially, will be the story of the game, regardless of result. The Americans have exceptional speed and it caught most of the Canadian defenders flat-footed New Year's Eve. Ellis had a rare off game. Jared Cowan had such an off night he wasn't even used in Canada's match against Switzerland. Now, however, with Hamonic lost to Canada, Cowan is back in with specific instructions from the coaches, he admits, to "Keep it simple."
The Canadians have struggled on their power play and are acutely aware that the Americans scored twice short-handed last time out, so simplicity and position will be priorities.
"When you're getting scored on on the power play, it's not a good thing," says Jordan Eberle, who has scored six times in the tournament and is Canada's No. 1 threat.
"We have to remain confident and not let nerves affect us."
The Americans, of course, are trusting in just that: jumpy Canadian nerves caused the excitement of the crowd, the pressures of a sixth straight gold, the scare the American speed already put into the Canadians.
"We know what they have and they know what we have," U.S. coach Dean Blais said.
In recent years, Blais said, the Americans have moved from taking youngsters with pure talent to taking talented youngsters who will compete at both ends of the ice.
"Hopefully," he said, "we have learned from you on that."
"It's going to be a huge game," said goaltender Mike Lee, who played so well against the Swedes and is expected to get tonight's start over Jack Campbell, who played in the shootout loss to the Canadians.
"Our mindset is simple," says American forward Jerry D'Amigo, who led the charge against the Swedes with two goals, "They're a good team, but we're a good team, too."
And that is all that should be necessary for a gold-medal game as good as what is already being called junior hockey's New Year's Classic.Report Typo/Error